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Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Would the Romans permit a normal burial for someone, such as Jesus, whom they had executed on the stake?

MANY are familiar with the account of Jesus’ being hung between two criminals and executed on a stake. (Matt. 27:35-38) There has been controversy, though, over the accuracy of the Bible account that Jesus’ corpse was thereafter prepared for burial and put in a tomb.​—Mark 15:42-46.

Some critics of the Gospels have doubted that the one executed would have been allowed to receive a proper burial, such as in a tomb. Instead, a different treatment was thought more likely. Journalist Ariel Sabar, writing in Smithsonian magazine, explains the background of that view: “Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for the dregs of society, and some experts had scoffed at the idea that Romans would accord anyone so dispatched the dignity of a proper interment.” The Romans wanted to subject condemned criminals to the worst possible humiliation, so the bodies would often have been left on the stake for scavenging animals. The remains might thereafter merely be tossed into a common grave.

Archaeology, however, has revealed something different, at least about the remains of some Jews who were put to death. In 1968 the skeletal remains of a man executed in the first century came to light. They were found in a typical Jewish family tomb near Jerusalem. The remains were in an ossuary, or bone box. A heel bone was among the remains. It was nailed to a wooden board by an 11.5 centimeter (4.5 in.) iron spike. “The heel, which belonged to a man named Yehochanan,” says Sabar, “helped settle a long-simmering debate about the plausibility of Gospel accounts of Jesus’s tomb burial.” Significantly, “Yehochanan’s heel offered an example of a crucified man from Jesus’s day for whom the Romans permitted Jewish burial.”

There might be differing views about what this heel bone suggests regarding the position of Jesus on the stake. But what is clear is that some executed criminals did receive a burial and were not simply discarded. Clearly, what the Bible says about Jesus’ body being laid in a proper tomb is trustworthy. The evidence backs up what the Bible says.

More important, Jehovah had foretold that Jesus would be buried in the tomb of a rich man, and no one can prevent God’s word from being fulfilled.​—Isa. 53:9; 55:11.